How Does the Cloud Fit in?
How Does the Cloud Fit In? (part 1 of 3)
Sometimes it seems that the industry is telling farmers today that the purpose of data is to have something to put into “the cloud.” In other words, “the cloud” is the end in itself, not a means to some other goal. This is unfortunate because the cloud has the potential to make your life simpler, your farm more efficient, and your bank account larger. It doesn’t do this by virtue of it’s own existence: it does this because it lets other tools that you use on your farm talk to each other without you needing to manually be the translator.
What does this mean in daily farm life? Let me introduce Tim (a Teenager) to tell that story. Tim is your neighbor’s son who has recently decided to write some mobile apps. Tim’s first mobile app is a planting progress app that shows you a map of all your fields and tells you at the top how many acres of corn you’ve planted, and how many you have left to go. You think, “That’s nifty. Not sure if it’s useful because I get by just fine keeping track of that in my head, but to be nice to Tim I’d like to give it a try.” And, since Tim’s young and motivated with few personal expenses, he’ll let you use the app for free!
But, really, you’re subconsciously thinking about the headaches of typing in all your fields on that tiny phone keyboard, drawing their boundaries, marking some as planned for “corn,” some planned for “beans,” and having to remember to keep telling the app that you finished planting a particular field. You start out with good intentions, but when the hectic nature of planting season starts, you forget to mark a couple of fields in the app early on. Now the app’s “total acres planted” is wrong. And it’s wrong until you find extra time to fix it. So you don’t enter the new fields that are done since it’s all out of date anyway.
The end of the season comes around; the corn is planted, and you decide the app was a nice idea, but you just didn’t have time for it. And now you’ve crushed little Timmy Teenager’s dreams of being a software engineer. Tim’s potentially bright, entrepreneurial mind just decided that ag isn’t for him, and he’ll focus on making yet-another-social-networking app instead. “YASNA” for short.
This is life without the cloud: planting season is still a by-the-seat-of-your-pants hectic dance around rain, employees, varieties, refuge requirements, pre-plant herbicide, breakdowns, and parts that won’t be here for two weeks. The corn gets planted, but three fields had the wrong variety because there was a miscommunication with the guy bringing seed corn to the field. And one small field was forgotten until the last minute. And we thought we were in good shape about halfway through the season, until we added up the actual acres left and realized we were only about one-third done instead of half done and temporary panic ensued. But the corn got planted, no cloud necessary.
Aaron Ault is the OADA Project Lead and a Senior Research Engineer at the Open Ag Technology Group at Purdue University.